Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Amwell 3 Bittern 1

Three visits to Amwell recently, 9th, 14th & 15th of February 2016 - all in search of the reported Bittern - the first real sightings of the regular winter visitor to HMWT Amwell.

In chronological order :

Tuesday 9th Feb.  From what I can recall I decided to have a wander round my local reserve in the afternoon, thought I might catch a glimpse of the Bittern or maybe even the Barn Owl neither of which I'd seen this season.

Well wrapped I headed out, it was reasonably sunny but cold so not the day for hanging out at the watchpoint.  Just after crossing the railway lines (having done my Green X code from childhood!) there are several groups of Burrs & Teasels which usually attract Goldfinches and on the ground Chaffinches - not today, not a great start.  I malingered (without intent) for 10 minutes or so and eventually managed to see a couple of very skittish Goldfinches and a lone female Chaffinch on the ground.  A couple of "distance" shots and I'm away.

Off through the "woods" - trees not really woods, alongside the railway line.  Usually a decent area for Siskin, Tree Creeper & Goldcrest maybe Woodpecker but today very quiet.  Should I just jack it in & go home now while the blood is still reasonably warm in my veins - I cogitated, hopefully no one noticed but wasn't going to hang around to see!  Approaching the end of the trail - movement, low down & quick, had to be a Goldcrest. I approached slowly and quietly watching the movement, emerging silently from behind a tree there he was - Blue Tit! - should've gone to Specsavers (other Opticians are available). 

Round to the Bittern Pool, nobody there.  On the plus side at least it was quiet, the other side of that coin - no Bittern, in fact no anything.  What's going on?  Has The Bearded Tit been here? I've told him before he scares the birds away! (if you don't believe me watch out for his Amwell blog for 16th Feb!).

James hide area, open windows, feeders still empty, very quiet, then, suddenly, nothing happens!

I closed the shutters (I'm good like that unless the "whacky baccy" crowd have been in residence, in which case I don't care man!)

Decide to head off to the White hide, just through the gate I can hear a Goldcrest which is no mean achievement for a deef ol' codger like me, trouble is with my faulty left ear he always sounds like he's on my right.  If anyone sees me doing impressions of a Whirling Dervish please come and help!  Eventually I spot him on the fence, camera up, focus and gone! Now he's in the tree on my left but at least I can see him (my eyes are marginally better than my ears), but he's an expert at Rule 2 AND Rule 3 - "Always keep a twig, branch or leaf between you and the numpty with the camera", or, if that is not an option, "Go round the other side", but he did eventually appear, one out of focus photo and he's off, not to be seen again.

White Hide here I come, quick check of the Bittern Pool from the walkway, keep walking.  Nothing on the path (The Bearded Tit?) By the time I get there the sun is out and lighting up the area around the hide with a lovely light, just a shame there were no birds!  Sat and watched for a while, a couple of Gadwall ventured towards the hide, saw me and ventured off again.  They must've had a chat and decided they could play Rules 2 & 3 to the full and avoid any incriminating pictures, but I'd moved - gotcha!

Delightful birds, and to quote a famous pet-shop owner from long ago, "Beautiful plumage" (KK ask your mum! or you can Google it!) and to prove it, here they are -

I spent a while watching them and realised my fingers had gone completely dead, on checking 6 out of 10 were white from the middle knuckle up - that's probably not a good sign but at least I know what causes it.

I decided to give up on the Barn Owl and head home. I stopped off at the James Hide and saw some more of the pet-shop owners comment, this time on a male Teal - just as impressive as the Gadwall in the right light.

OK that's me for today, straight home for something hot!

On to Sunday 14th, guess what it's cold again, in fact it's bloody freezing.  Should've stayed home & watch the football on Sky, but seriously, who wants watch Arse, Arsen, Arse . . . nope, no good can't do it! (Can you guess who I support children?)

I wasn't going to hang around today, I intended to be home for the final game of the day, so keep walking.

Same result as previously at the Bittern Pool despite being told 3 times "Bittern was showing well 15 minutes ago" - 3 times! no need to rub it in!  On my walk around today I managed to miss it 3 times but it was simply too cold and windy to just stand there today.

I went through the woods again as a starter, still quiet, though with today being Sunday, there were a lot of "non-birders" about with their families and pets, bicycles, scooters, and small plastic bags with which to decorate the trees! 

I really do have to ask, "Why go to the trouble of picking up your dogs doings in a plastic bag and then lob it into the nearest tree or bush?" - presumably the bags are "disposable" or "bio-degradable" so therefore "green".  It looks so unsightly to non-dog owners (like me) and surely they must see it's still there next time they come round?  The bags don't breakdown overnight for heavens sake!  TAKE IT HOME!

The best I could manage today was GSW up towards the top of a tree,

Next stop, Bittern Pool, no Bittern at the moment so just "pool".

Took a walk to the Dragonfly Trail area, over the bridge checking for Bullfinches which had been reported in the area recently, surprised to see - nothing!  Arrived at the Dragonfly Trail gate, checked the feeders, all the usual suspects, various Tits, Green, Gold & Chaf - finches, another GSW, couple of Redwings under the nearest Hawthorn, back to the feeders, a couple of Redpoll - nice to see, but too far to photograph.

Stood & watched for a few minutes, the wind was keen and still cold though not quite as strong as by the river.  Then right in front of me, a Goldcrest landed in some dead thistles (I'm thinking "Thistle do me!" - sorry), he's doing Rule 2 & 3 but I managed a few OK shots and lot more "deleteable" shots.  I love to see them, especially close to, they don't seem to be phased at all.

But they do need to smile now & again!

Well pleased with the Goldcrest views I headed back, via the Bittern Pool - 15 minutes too late again!

Cold, I went home to watch the late game - and warm up again!  (COYS!)

Monday 15th Feb

Well what a result! I'd hoped for a draw and expected a defeat, dare we dream?

Anyway, birdy things.

I came into the reserve from the other end today so started at the Dragonfly Trail feeders, "Morning's" all round and then "Bittern was showing well at the Bittern Pool", "When?" - don't tell me, "Oh, about 15 minutes ago" -again! surely I couldn't have a repeat performance today.

Arrived at said "pool", one other person there, and  . . . . .  no Bittern, though he did confirm two Bittern, TWO! a chance of not seeing twice as many!  Stood for a while, with binoculars trained on the far reed bed, scanning along, once, twice, three times, then - Gotcha "Bittern".  No one there just me, watched it for a few minutes and then it disappeared into the reed bed.  Looked round and saw a lone figure heading straight for me - Katy Kingfisher (trying to shake of her mum!). Usual pleasantries and then explain where I'd seen the Bittern but not visible now.  Alan Gardiner arrived, he of Herts Birds website fame, although at that point I didn't know who he was.  Now we're joined by Mrs.Watervole - how can a watervole be a kingfishers mum? - only in the Twittersphere! 

Now four pairs of eyes watching - well three pairs and Alans' one - he had a scope, spotted him  - the Bittern.  "There he is", "Where?" long description of the reed bed to try to get the others onto the Bittern - eventually we all saw it, so it disappeared again.  Then reappeared and gave us some great views & photo opportunities for 15 minutes or so, completely out in the open, despite Katy's squeals of delight at seeing her "first Bittern of the year".  Great enthusiasm.

Katy & her mum went off when the Bittern finally left the scene, saying she was going to count the Konik ponies (there are only 3) and her mum said something about them only having three legs - I didn't understand that but she said it's because people feed them even though there are loads of notices asking them not too - probably the same people who insist on decorating the trees with small plastic bags!  So please don't feed the ponies 'cos their legs fall off!

I stayed for awhile chatting to Alan - we'd now introduced ourselves - and saw the second Bittern fly out of the reeds, over the fence and into the reed bed on Great Hardmead Lake.  At least this time some great views and some half decent photos of the "shy and elusive" Bittern - not today my friend, not today!

From the Bittern Pool - now correctly & fully named -  I popped into the James Hide.  Still very quiet here but I did spot Phil, the resident Pheasant in the close reeds and just for a split second think it might have been the "flying" Bittern from next door, but definitely Phil.

The feeders were still empty except for the Peanut feeder which was doing brisk trade of mainly Great Tits with Blue Tits waiting their turn, but not much else.  Did see a bank vole but he saw me and shot into the undergrowth.

The pool was quiet too, but there was more "beautiful plumage" on show.

Time to head home, lunch time and I'm getting hungry.   On the walk back to the car I did spot  a Tree Creeper along the Amwell Walkway, managed one shot then Rule 3 took effect!

Not a bad morning at all. 

Public information: I used a couple of disposable hand warmers which certainly helped the dead fingers problem so "Thanks" to Katy for helping me load them into my gloves.  10 handwarmers for £2 from Tesco, last winter, still warm when I threw them out at about 9.00pm - some 9 or 10 hours later! 

How many hand warmers does in take to cook a baked potato I wonder? Can I get a grant?

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